It’s among the world’s most closely guarded secrets, accessible only to an elite group whose specialised knowledge and skills are beyond the comprehension of lowly business owners.
Ok, so that may be how some experts would like it to be but, the reality is, the basic rules for getting Google to love your website so it gets found online are relatively simple, and the success of implementation is largely in your hands.
Now, before debunking Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) experts completely, and to avoid me getting hate-mail or worse, let me clarify something. If you have a business-critical need to out-rank your competitors and obtain Google glory at the top of the organic search results for one or more key, natural language, phrases over a prolonged period of time, you very definitely need an SEO guru. Why? Because optimising your website for search engines is not a one-off exercise, nor is it a one-size-fits-all solution.
The search engine landscape changes constantly and the old adage that in business, if you’re not moving forwards you’re actually going backwards, is never more true than for maintaining your position at the top of organic search engine results.
Search engines are forever changing the way they rank websites, not just to keep web developers and SEO gurus on their toes, but because they are constantly refining and redefining how they work, learning (literally, using Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning) from every facet and nuance of how we, the great searching public, use search engines to find stuff.
Google releases regular core algorithm updates and a constant flow of minor updates. At the time of writing (July 2019) Google had already rolled out 7 core updates since the beginning of the year. As for minor updates, in 2018 Google reported an incredible 3,234 updates – an average of almost 9 per day!
If your website has never been optimised, added to the Google Search Console or even looked-at by someone who knows more about search engine visibility than your average web-developer (oops, here we go again!) then it may explain why you’re appearing nowhere in the organic list despite you having an obviously fantastic website.
What is Google’s ‘organic’ list?
When you enter a search term into Google and hit the enter key, you’re presented with a page of results. At the top of the page are 3 or 4 results that are actually paid adverts (Google Ads) and their position is determined partly by relevance and partly by how much the owner pays. The rest of the page, apart from the 3 or 4 entries at the very bottom which are also paid ads, is just a list of websites ordered by relevance that Google believes best match your search term. That list is known as the ‘organic’ list as it constantly changes depending on the quality and relevance of [website] content, even for the exact same search term.
On-page SEO is about refining the content ON your website so it’s clear to Google what your website is all about. Off-page SEO is what other websites or marketing activity/outposts say about your website (to search engines). This article relates only to on-page SEO activity.
Below is a tried and trusted, Google-confirmed, SEO-approved list of basic actions you should undertake immediately in order to ensure Google can not only see your website but will love it and will index everything, giving you the best possible ranking position in the context of relevant search phrases.
Implementing these action points really isn’t rocket science (ok, so one or two are a tad technical) so you should be able to do the majority by yourself, assuming you have access to manage the content on your website. If not, then assuming you have a good-enough relationship with your web developer, ask them to work with you to implement the steps. It really shouldn’t cost much.
Remember; this is NOT full-on SEO. This is fundamental stuff that should have been completed at the outset (determined before your website was even built, and implemented once it was complete and ready to launch) and you should have been educated on how to create & maintain all new content to this standard. If not, perhaps it’s time to find new web-developer.
Two final observations before getting stuck-in to the list;
Firstly, this assumes you have already spent time on keyword research and have a list of appropriate, specific and targeted words and phrases that describe your business, the products you sell or the services you provide. There are people who can help you with this and even online tools you can use yourself. Failing the latter, then basic, common sense, a few people around you and a couple of bottles of wine is also known to be highly successful at establishing exactly what it is you do.
Secondly, I have mentioned search engines and Google but, although Google rules the world, Yahoo and Bing are also out there being used. By someone. These tips will help your website be found in all search engines, not only Google, but this article refers to Google as a generic term for search engines.
These tips will help your website be found in all search engines, not only Google, but this article refers to Google as a generic term for search engines.
Ok, so let’s get into what you need to know, in the form of 10 steps to on-page SEO heaven for your website:
1) Page titles.
These are frequently overlooked as being unimportant but website page titles are like the title of a book. If you had to read through a book to understand what it’s about you’d soon get bored and give up. Having a well-structured page title that includes some key words works equally well for humans and search engines.
2) Meta tags.
The jury is out on how effective these are now because Google’s ability to read and understand your content becomes more human-like in its ability to interpret what it reads every day. However, whilst Google stopped paying attention to the ‘keyword’ meta tag about 10 years ago because it was so easy to abuse, and it’s not completely clear if the ‘descriptions’ meta tag has a positive impact on the ranking position of your website, it’s still important to include it (and others such as ‘title’) so Google knows what your website is about.
Meta tags are the hidden sections of text that search engines use behind the scenes to determine, at a ‘meta’ level, what your website is about. You can and should also set meta tags for individual pages. If you’re using WordPress, then the WordPress SEO plugin by Yoast will enable you to easily and intuitively set both title tags and meta descriptions for each page.
3) Quality text:
Do not skimp on the text you write that describes your products and services. Be clear and reasonably concise but write enough to allow the inclusion of well-placed keywords from the list you made when you had your friends round and were drinking wine.
The trick here is to include as many keywords as possible whilst keeping it nice and human-readable. A block of text filled with keywords is not only hard to read but also really obvious to search engines who could penalise you for over-optimisation, so do not over-do it.
4) Internal links:
These could be links to another section or to a download. Search engines pay a lot of attention to the way you structure the internal links so, instead of using the words ‘click here’ to go to a download, trying using something more descriptive (but not too wordy) such as ‘Download our cabinet fitting guide here’.
Equally, the ‘URL’ (the address of a web-page that search engines see and you might type-in) should include keywords that clearly describe the page they refer to. With a little time and patience you can optimise the URL for every page to ensure they each contain highly relevant keywords and that each one is completely unique.
As in the ‘Quality text’ point above, do not over-do this as over-optimisation can be penalised. Keep them clear, simple and easy to understand and don’t use connecting words like ‘in’, ‘an’ or ‘and’ etc.
Your website comes alive with the images you choose but you could be forgiven for thinking search engines can’t see them. There are actually three possible ways a search engine will find your images so, in some respects, they’re more powerful than words alone. You can include keywords in the file name, the title tag and the alt tag (alt = alternative). All three can/will be indexed by search engines and add to the quality of optimised content. Additionally, the images will appear in the images section of search engine results.
The title-tag is used to describe the image and should contain a good, clear description so that if the image doesn’t show in the user’s browser, the text will be displayed instead. Finally, alt-text is used by screen readers for the visually impaired.
6) Site map:
As technology has enabled websites to be more easily navigated, site maps are used less by people and more by search engines as they’re a one-stop-shop set of directions to every page on your website. At least they should be! Site maps fall down when they’re manually created and, these days, there’s simply no reason to do that.
If your website is database driven (e.g. WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, or built in php, .net, ASP etc.) then you can easily create a dynamic XML sitemap that Google will eat for breakfast. Plugins are readily available for most content management systems and will handle this for you. Once the sitemap has been created you should, ideally, do two things:
First, register it with Google Search Console (previously called Webmaster Tools). Create yourself a Google account (or use your existing Gmail account), look for the Search Console and add your website’s domain name, and then add the xml site map.
Secondly, make sure there’s a link somewhere on your website to the site map file. It’s not really a human-friendly readable file so don’t add a normal menu link, keep it tucked away in the footer.
7) Page heading and subheadings:
Page headings (as distinct from page titles which are the names of pages in the browser tabs or windows) are really important for search engines as they set the scene for what’s to follow. It’s important to use keyword-rich page headings and sub-headings, and these should also be wrapped in appropriate [html] H1/H2 title tags. This is getting a little technical, but it’s worth knowing.
Page headings. Take, for example, your ‘About Us’ page. Is it ok to have ‘About Us’ as the page heading? Well, no, not really.. If you arrived at only that page and its heading was ‘About Us’ you’d ask; ‘about who?’
Try using something more interesting to humans and search engines, like; ‘About the Marchwood Timber Company.
If you include a sub-heading below the heading it could say;
‘The Marchwood Timber Company was established in 1987’
The title text should be wrapped in ‘h1’ and ‘h2’ title tags respectively, so if you looked at the ‘source code’ behind the page it would be show this:
<h1>All about the Marchwood Timber Company</h1>
<h2> The Marchwood Timber Company was established in 1987</h2>
Whilst you will only see this if you looked at the source code, search engines can see the text and all the tags and they use them to prioritise the importance of the headings. Your website Content Management System admin and/or plugin should take care of the tagging for you (mainly the ‘h1’ tag)
8) Pay attention to the home page first:
The home page is by far the most important page on your website.
Google will find, and index separately, all other pages but you really want Google and humans to know which is your home page and to give it the highest priority.
Think of your home page as a physical shop window. If you had a shop window you wouldn’t want to leave people guessing what you did. You would have a clear sign above the shop and messages/graphics on the window so people can easily and quickly understand what you sell or what you do. Your website’s home page is no different. Remember; space is limited so choose your words carefully and use them effectively.
Western, English speaking humans read top-down and left-to-right. As such, we place importance on what we read/see in the same order. Think about this when constructing your home page, keeping the most important titles, text and keywords high up.
9) Build incoming links:
Google likes to know how trusted your website is. Having other websites or others online outposts link to your website is a good way to do this. It’s not easy and, even when you do have incoming links, they need to be effective.
There’s not a lot of benefit to be had from the local antique shop’s website linking to yours, or the local furniture shop, as they probably get very little exposure online and limited website visitor numbers. However, if you had incoming links from a prominent local newspaper or community website, or from a large company or the council, all of which have many thousands of regular visitors, you can see how that might influence Google positively by association.
Again, it’s not easy but look to create the best quality incoming (inbound) link you can.
A couple of ways you can do this are using social media and Press Releases. If you write a blog about what you do and you publish it on your website, you can use social media and LinkedIn to make a reference to the blog post and point people back to your website.
Similarly, having Press Releases and paid articles published on prominent magazine and news or trade association websites, will seriously improve the quality perception of your incoming links.
This is venturing slightly into off-page SEO but the articles will also be published on your own website.
10) Your own blog/news:
Writing your own blogs and news posts is a great way to build a good profile and hugely increase the opportunity of being found by search engines. Why? Because what you write about will be unique to you and will be full of keyword-rich phrases about the products or services you offer.
What’s really important though, is having the blog section on your own website, not separately as a stand-alone blog. It also provides the perfect opportunity to communicate with your customers, giving them something interesting and genuinely useful to read (therefore it must be informative not salesy).
Thinking about marketing and optimising your website when you’re trying to run a business, is tough – as if you don’t already have enough to do. However, you really shouldn’t limit your website’s effectiveness (not to mention the money you’ve invested in it) through a lack of your own knowledge, especially when a little time and effort can make such a big difference.
Try to find the time, don’t be put-off by worrying that it’s complicated or technical, just get stuck-in, learn something new and take pride in knowing how you directly influenced your website’s effectiveness in search engines without the need for an SEO guru. Yet.